Around the time of the Bersih rally on 9 July, Malaysians had to contend with anti-Bersih talk, leaving Azmil Tayeb bewildered as to how some people mindlessly accepted obvious propaganda.
To those who support the recent Bersih 2.0 rally for clean elections, we’ve heard the same old tired detracting canards propounded by the Malaysian mainstream media echo chamber, which were later parroted by our own family members and friends.
Truth be told, it got to the point where I simply refused to dignify their “anti-Bersih” arguments with sound intellectual responses because I think they were too frivolous and didn’t deserve any.
Still, I also have this nagging need to clear the air once and for all especially now in the aftermath of the event. The dust has finally settled and the facts have naturally emerged from the battle-scarred ground.
Below are some of the main arguments put forth by the Bersih 2.0 detractors and my ensuing refutations.
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They were actually caused by the police roadblocks on major arteries leading into the city, checking for imaginary weapons and stopping potential rally participants. If people were allowed unimpeded access in and around the Klang Valley the traffic flow would be just like any other day.
Even some of the nearby LRT, Monorail and Komuter stations were shut down to force people to walk farther than they had to with the all too obvious intention of discouraging them from going to the rally sites. Also, if the protesters had been given permission to march along a pre-determined route, the authorities would not have had to close down more roads than what was necessary.
How can one complain about the traffic jams in the city during the rally when there had been ample warnings ahead of time? Moreover, it was only a matter of a few hours of inconvenience. More streets were closed for an even longer period of time during the recent KL Marathon, of which I was also a participant, and I didn’t hear a peep from anyone. That said, common sense dictates that it is simply irresponsible and foolhardy to go through life without any contingency plan!
It was clear that shops that dared to open during the rally were raking in huge profits due to stream of marchers stopping by for food and drinks. A few mamak restaurants near Central Market, Jalan Nagasari and Masjid India seemed to be enjoying brisk business.
The mamak place by Central Market even charged 30 sen for the use of its toilet! The Medan Selera along Jalan Masjid India (next to Pasar Borong Mydin) was also packed with people. So was the pasar malam near Semua House and Campbell. If Bersih 2.0 merchandise had been legal, vendors could have made a killing by selling them along the march route.
A heavy downpour during the rally also meant that if some of the shops had carried (preferably yellow) umbrellas and raincoats they would have been sold like hot goreng pisang. If somehow the business people still felt that their businesses were genuinely affected by the rally, then it would have been advisable for them to be patient and bear with the hassle for only a short while. What’s a few hours of temporary setback for the sake of the common good and a better future for all?
In short, the rally could have served as an opportunity for business people to profit off the mass influx of people into the city. Even the ice cream seller on a motorcycle seemed to be doing pretty well. I bought an ice cream from the guy selling next to the Sogo shopping complex and he attested that his stock almost ran out.
Chaos and property damage
The march was peaceful and calm at first until the police and the Federal Reserve Unit (FRU), unprovoked, decided to shoot water cannons and lob tear gas canisters at the protesters. What kind of orchestrated dispersal did the authorities expect when they indiscriminately fired tear gas and water cannons into the crowd?
The crowd, much to its credit, managed to stay as composed and orderly as it could given the very stressful circumstances. Also, the authorities should claim responsibility for destroying public property due to the excessive use of force.
As best as I can recall, the throngs of protesters were respectful of their surroundings and did not engage in any kind of vandalism at all. None of the parked cars were burned nor shop windows broken. After all, these were concerned citizens with real grievances, not thugs and looters.
Had the authorities allowed the march to proceed on a pre-determined route and time, they could have easily avoided all the confusion and pandemonium, which would have then resulted in a win-win situation for all parties involved.
The crux of this racist conjecture basically argues that the Malays, due to their prominent presence during the rally, were exploited by the Chinese in DAP.
The word used was “diperkudakan” (to be ridden like a horse). I was a bit taken aback when several of my (Malay) friends posted statements of this nature on Facebook — and not surprisingly they weren’t even at the rally. It goes without saying that they are all anti-Bersih 2.0 to begin with and most likely Umno and/or Perkasa supporters.
But the facts on the ground proved otherwise. Of course Malays, by virtue of being the largest ethnic group in Malaysia, would be heavily represented in the rally. But other ethnic groups were also well represented, even the Dayaks from Borneo.
If the Prime Minister honestly wants to see what a true 1Malaysia looks like, he doesn’t need to look any further than the composition of the Bersih 2.0 participants who braved the streets on 9 July 2011. The whole rally was essentially multiracial, transcending age and religion. It was the very epitome of 1Malaysia – and completely voluntary and uncontrived.
What the Najib administration has vainly tried to achieve in the past two years with its multi-million ringgit public relations campaign (read: Apco scandal), the Bersih 2.0 organisers managed to do it in a much shorter time, against almost insurmountable obstacles – and free-of-charge too. Maybe there’s something the government can learn here.
It was such an amazing feeling to be among my fellow Malaysians who were courageous enough to take to the streets of KL – despite the threats, intimidation and possible arrest, and facing down water cannons and tear gas – to struggle for a more democratic and just Malaysia.
But I’m saddened by the baseless statements – as summarised in the preceding points – coming from some of my so-called “educated” friends. They emotionally engage in a form of solipsistic argument, in which only one’s own lived experience and weltanschaaung (world view) form the sole basis of “truth”. In research parlance their sample size (N) is equal to 1, which every self-respecting social scientist knows is empirically weak and statistically insignificant.
In addition, it rankles the mind how these people can just eat up the bile churned out by the Malaysian mainstream media and somehow stop using their critical thinking faculty to question the fairness and veracity of the government propaganda.
One doesn’t need to be a seasoned media analyst to be cognisant of the blatantly one-sided nature of the mainstream media in Malaysia.
Maybe it’s time for these anti-Bersih 2.0 people, especially my dear friends, to swallow the bitter red pill — or is it blue? — and escape once and for all from the illusionary and corrupt world of the Barisan Nasional Matrix. As the cliche goes, only the (un-solipsistic) truth can set you free.
Azmil Tayeb is an academic teaching in one of our universities. He took a long walk in KL on 9 July.